The Horse


This moment is insignificant.

She is standing by the study door, the carpet plush between her small toes. In one hand she holds the broken remains of a wooden horse; the other curls around the hem of her dark blue nightgown. Though it is her parents on the other side, she is afraid.

The horse was a gift for her fourth birthday, but she was sternly told not to play with it. Not a toy, her mother explained, but a piece of art. Let it sit here and watch over you, her father suggested, and they left the horse on the table beside her bed as the nurse finished tucking the blankets in.

When her nurse’s snores filled the room with familiar comfort she slipped her toes into the cold and reached across to draw the horse into bed beside her. She cradled it against the pillow, tucking it under the warm cover, and whispered it stories of hay and sunshine. Her guilt got the better of her, though, and she reluctantly she kissed the stallion goodbye.

As she reached to put it back on the table, its weight pulled hard against her small fingers, and it dropped. It hit the stone floor just to the left of the carpet that might have saved it. The horse’s strong neck snapped just below the muscles of its broad chest; one leg caved in against the regal flank, and the tip of the tail went flying, lost in the shadows of the room. Her tears woke the nurse, who chided her soundly.

With one large hand wrapped around her small arm, the nurse marched her out of the bedroom, past chuckling guards, and towards the study door. The older woman knocked, and turned to her small charge with both hands planted on her hips.

“Well? In you go,” she said.

She opened the door, and stared into the study. Her parents were turned towards each other; there was a private smile on her mother’s face. Their heads were bent together, and the firelight turned a few strands of her father’s hair to molten silver.

This is it: the moment. He reaches out, before he knows the door is already open, and trails his fingers softly across his wife’s cheek. In that moment, their daughter is no longer afraid. The broken horse is almost forgotten in her hand, and she takes a step, to run towards them, to join the picture. To be caught up in her father’s arms, sandwiched between them so all there is in the world is them, each other, and the static warmth of the look they exchange.

Of course the moment will be gone before she arrives; private moments are by their nature fragile, and her father will see the broken horse, and there will be admonitions and tears and objections and surrender and regret and apology. But for just a moment, as she lifts her foot and before she puts it down, she exists purely in that moment.

And she is not afraid.